Father PJ Pearson in the church hall where the congregation were tear-gassed and attacked by police after the funerals of ANC members Robbie Waterwitch and Coline Williams.
Photo: Zubeida Vallie
‘This image was quite a crucial one in the Martyrs, Saints & Sellouts exhibition (2013). It was positioned alongside Benny Gool’s photograph of Michael Weeder [an anti-apartheid stalwart who served as chaplain to ANC freedom fighters in the Struggle], highlighting the connection between state and church and how different faiths related to the political situation under apartheid. If you think, for example, of the NG Kerk and their particular role, as opposed to the role of figures like Father Pearson, who is Catholic, and Michael Weeder, who is Anglican. Even though this is a silent, image I can almost smell the teargas and hear the silence that the image conjures – the absolute destruction, bearing in mind that this was following the deaths of Robbie Waterwitch and Coline Williams. [Waterwitch and Williams were two young members of Umkhonto weSizwe, who were blown to pieces in 1989 when a limpet mine they had planned to place at the courts detonated prematurely. Both devout Catholics, they are viewed by those who were involved in the struggle in the region in the turbulent 1980s as martyrs.] And they were young. Yet, if you asked most people today, they would have absolutely no idea who these young people were.
‘From a visual point of view, those lines are suberb. Vallie has captured the striking beam of light linking up to the crucifix on the wall. It counters everything you think should happen in church or a place of worship, and makes you wonder how such a thing could happen. Interestingly when I spoke to Father Peter John and Dean Weeder, when they looked at these images, they were struck silent again. Even though it is decades down the line, this moment was a profound one for them. Also, when you consider that they had just tear-gassed this hall, you can’t help thinking of Zubeida as the photographer behind the lens, struggling to focus to get to this image.’ – Siona O’ Connell